When Was Sarmizegetusa Regia Conquered?

Jan 23, 14 • Blog, ExcerptNo CommentsRead More »
Aerial view of Sarmisegetusa Regia. Photo by EUGEN PESCARU

Aerial view of Sarmisegetusa Regia. Photo by EUGEN PESCARU


Why would grown-up people lose their time trying to answer childish questions? Pick any schoolkid and they will tell you that the Romans defeated the Dacians in two successive wars, between the years 101–102 and 105–106, respectively; at the end of the latter, they finally conquered Sarmizegetusa Regia and abolished the Dacian state. So it remains written in any history schoolbook. But, in this case, this is exactly where the problem seems to lie…

One of the first heretics who challenged the official view is historian Coriolan Opreanu, who asserted that Sarmizegetusa was conquered as early as the end of the first war, when Trajan hadn’t come to conquer Dacia but to teach a lesson to one of his client kings. In fact, priority over this theory should be given to the Roman historian Cassius Dio (155-235 A.D.) who says that, in 102, emperor Trajan returned to Rome leaving in the Dacian capital a Roman garrison (stratopedon) and the king Decebal under the burden of an unbearable peace. Archaeological diggings revealed numerous vestiges of Roman constructions at the site of Sarmizegetusa, famous today for its sacred precinct The Romans destroyed the temples but rebuilt the city and practically doubled its size. ‘All we know about the first Dacian War, the directions of the Roman attacks, the tactical and strategic tasks of the legions, not to mention the situation preceding the year 101 (such as the type of relationships between the Roman Empire and the Geto-Dacians, the military presence of the Romans north of the Danube in the first century A.D., the formation of client-king type relationships with local dynasties, the rising of some centers of opposition against Romans on the middle and lower course of the Danube, the changes in military and political visions in Rome during the Flavian epoch), shows that Sarmizegetusa was occupied in 102’, says historian Iancu Motu.

No Roman coin newer than 106 was yet found at Sarmizegetusa, a surprising fact if we assume that Roman troops would have been maintained there for five to ten years after the second Dacian war in order to guard the devastated ruins of the capital, as claimed by the partisans of the 106 Conquest. Equally improbable is the hypothesis that Trajan would have stopped only half a mile from Sarmizegetusa, after taking the strongholds of Costesti and Fetele Albe.

At the end of the first war, the Romans occupied the regions of Banat, Oltenia, Muntenia, the south of Moldova and Hateg Country. It is highly improbable that the very residence of Decebal would resist behind the enemy lines. The stationing of an army in the Dacian capital city and the Roman constructions, especially the enlargement of the city, would have been useful only to avoid the violation of the peace of 102; they would have been somehow illogical after the final victory of 106. However, researchers in Cluj continue to claim that all Roman buildings discovered here were built after 106.

‘The Daicoviciu School preferred a speculative interpretation: Cassius Dio wouldn’t talk about the Dacian royal Sarmizegetusa, but about the future Roman Sarmizegetusa – the Ulpia Traiana. But even in this case, archaeology shows something else: no Dacian remains have been found there – nothing that would justify the stationing of Roman troops in that place in 102. The motivation for these theories that contravene the historical findings and archaeological data is mostly related to patriotic and regional pride’, says Mircea Babes. However, this controversy is postponed until all the findings from Sarmizegetusa and from the complex in Orastiei Mountains will be published.